God on the Move: “The Evidence Behind the Ears” – Colossians 3

Kids-in-BathI love to take baths – my wife will attest to the fact that I can take a book and monopolize the bathtub for an hour almost anytime – but especially when it is cold and rainy outside, (which is twice a year in our little Florida town)! For reasons I don’t completely understand, I love to read in the bath, and a “hot tub” is a special sanctuary of relaxation for me. I should admit, however, for the sake of honesty, that it was not always so. I used to hate bath time (at about age ten!) There was a time in my early life when we didn’t have a bath – but a shower – and showers were for daydreaming – not for getting clean. I loved to fill the room with steam even as a child. I loved the way hot water always felt good on my skin – even if I ended up looking more like a steamed crustacean than a Smith child. In the process, I was SUPPOSED to use the soap that was provided to actually wash myself. I cannot say why, (perhaps it was the memory of my mom who could remove your skin at bath time to make you fully clean) but I often didn’t wash at all. I stood there and used up a perfectly good hot water heater’s full of steamy water. When I came out, I was red, wet and relaxed. What I wasn’t – was CLEAN. I know this because I failed “mom inspection” on a number of occasions. What I couldn’t figure out was how my mom could wipe behind my ears and figure out if I used soap and a wash rag. As a parent, I now know that she may have been bluffing – but then…those were simpler times, and I was simple enough to match them!

In the end, what I learned from being ten and hating soap was this: cleansing leaves signs – or marks. It produces an effect; a change. Any soap worth its weight cuts through dirt and even changes the aroma of the skin to which it has been applied. Good bathing shows in the “afterglow” and passes a “mom inspection”. I also learned a truth that I can now easily apply in my spiritual life: If I have truly been cleansed, you will be able to tell on a close inspection. Paul taught that in the end of Colossians to believers long ago…

Key Principle: Jesus didn’t just SAVE us, He CHANGES us. Real time with Him leaves the marks of ongoing transformation.

I am not the caterpillar I was when I was born; nor am I the butterfly I am going to be when the transformation renews me. Right now, I am in a state of change – a transformation from the old man’s domination to the Spirit’s change. Paul wrote to the Colossians long ago, while awaiting a tribunal before Nero, and he noted the evidences of transformation. Before we study it together, it is worth recalling the first two chapters of Colossians offered five major ideas:

The first idea is “God’s goals for His children.” The answers to this particularly question are obvious from Paul’s elegant prayer for the Colossians 1:9-12, where he shares the POINT of God’s work in and through a believer – one who has truly trusted Christ for salvation.

• Understanding: God wants us to know His desires.
• Impact: God wants our life to count.
• Discipline: God wants us to curb our appetites.
• Resolve: God wants us to get stubborn about doing right.
• Trust: God wants us to get our smile back on and trust God in difficulty.

The second idea is “God has a right to “impose” His goals on us” found in Colossians 1:13-29, where God offered through Paul’s quill two basic reasons God’s rights to our lives makes sense.

• First, it is because of WHAT GOD DID FOR US (1:13-14). God orchestrated in Messiah three specific acts that are outlined by Paul: God entered the prison of darkness in Satan’s dominion and set me free (1:13a). God relocated me to a new Kingdom that was part of the estate of His much loved Son (1:13b). God set aside my guilt by considering payment in full through the work of Messiah for me (1:14).

• A second reason is given to explain why God cold expect me to follow His plan for me: WHO OUR SAVIOR IS (1:15ff). It is clear that God has the right to ask each of us to surrender our will because we follow the Incomparable Christ.

Following the “goals” and “rights” discussion, Paul moved in to frame the answer to a problem: “What hinders us from surrendering to Christ?” Chapter two identifies some obstacles:

• First, some of us get our signals (improperly) from the circumstances – but we can’t reliably see the truth through the problems (like the fact that Paul was under arrest didn’t signal anything about Christianity’s future). Some believers attempt to figure out God’s direction based on what they observed in the daily news – and that doesn’t work well (2:1-7).

• Second, like to feel like they “earn standing with God” and that leads them to desire something “more than Jesus” to fulfill their religious impulses (2:8-15). Unsatisfied with Jesus alone – they acted up.

• Third, believers too often seek affirmation from other men and women, allowing others to dictate their practices in following Christ (2:16-23). We can easily seek the “like” button of friends on our life over the approval of Jesus above all.

God has goals and rights, and I must recognize that I will be hindered if I seek His direction through the news and not His Word; I will be delayed if I place religious practice higher than strengthening my relationship with Jesus daily; and I will be stalled if I seek the approval of men over the Divine nod.

Let me pose the questions that I believe dominated the rest of Paul’s thinking in Colossians… What will transformation actually look like? If Jesus is changing me, how can I tell? Can others tell as well? Are there “benchmarks” for the changes?

It all starts with PERSPECTIVE (Colossians 3:1-4).

Paul called people to have eternity’s values in view in this life’s behaviors and decisions. He told them to deliberately make every effort to train their minds to see things from a Heavenly perspective.

Note the words of Colossians 3:1 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Without clarity on this point – nothing else Paul wrote will make sense. We have to see life from Jesus’ perspective in order to make priorities that please Him. We need to ask the question, day after day, “What is Jesus doing in this circumstance? What I am to learn from it? How would He desire me to respond to it? What proactive action or reactive response would show that I have taken the time to see it from Heaven’s point of view? If that isn’t clear enough, keep reading, because Paul offers yet more clarity…

Transformation is changing my view of “ME” (my body and its “needs” – Colossians 3:5-7).

Paul turned the attention of how a Heavenly perspective is seen directly toward discipline of our thought life, and intentional curbing of our desires. He wrote:

Colossians 3:5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them.

Let’s say it again: There is no accidental holiness! Paul picked out key areas of temptation and self-fulfillment that blanket the advertisements of our day. “You NEED this!” they beckon. “Why wait?” they ask. “If you feel so strongly about it, why deny yourself?” they query. Yet, God made clear that as we are being transformed, our “Heaven glasses” will see more clearly. Look at the five symptoms of the old life Paul mentioned:

• Immorality: porneia, derived from pernaō, “to sell off” – surrendering to body hungers and selling off Godly values.

• Impurity: aka-tharsía, from two words – “not” and katharós, “unmixed, pure” – it holds the idea of mixing sewage in your brownie mix and then claiming that it is just a small amount, so it won’t hurt you!

• Passion: páthos or “raw feelings”) – which refers to being driven by hungers and emotions that are not guided by God (like consuming lust) nor checked by your disciplines. This is the “Give yourself to it – you KNOW you want it!” philosophy.

• Evil desire: kakós from the root for “inner malice” – it is about hungering for things that are innately unsavory in character. This is the one who longs to run off and live “beyond the tracks” and “sow the wild oats” for a time.

• Greed: pleon-eksía from pleíōn, “numerically more” and éxō, “have” – properly, Chasing a driving hunger to have MORE.

Let me be absolutely clear: You cannot claim you have Heaven’s perspective if you are constantly chasing earth’s hungers. You cannot claim to be a growing Christian and have your behavior ever directed by so-called “felt needs”. We must place even our inner hungers under the subjection of Jesus Christ. Do we not remember that our Savior felt the nails and the lash in spite of despising the shame and hating the pain? Why must we insist that Jesus came to feed our feeling, furnish our lust and nurture our unquenchable thirst for more in this physical life? In historic Christianity this message was easily spotted and rebuffed; today it has become enshrined and preached. We cannot be blinded: Jesus didn’t come to transform us into worldly people, but men and women with Heaven’s value system.

Transformation CAN BE HEARD! (Colossians 3:8-10).

Paul made clear that to have new hungers prevail, I must allow the Spirit’s power to be directed in my WORDS… My SPEECH will change…

Colossians 3:8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, [and] abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—

Don’t get all mystical about growing up in Christ. The Spirit isn’t going to change the channel or the website, nor choose your words as you speak – those are YOUR JOBS. Changing clothes for a Roman was something he or she may have anticipated HELP WITH, but it still required their active and deliberate personal participation! In the same way, each of the following SIX ITEMS are ours to TAKE OUT of our mouths:

• Anger: orgḗ – vehement opposition that rises from stubbornness.

• Wrath: from thymós – passion-driven speech.

• Malice: from kakía – underlying evil intent in your words.

• Slander: from blasphēmía which is two words: blax, “sluggish/slow,” and phḗmē, “reputation, fame”). It is to be slow to call something good (that really is good) – or identify what is truly evil as such.

• Abusive Speech: from aischrologia (say: ahee-skhrol-og-ee’-ah) which simple meant “filthy speech” or “foul language”.

• Lying: from pseúdomai – to falsify, lie or willfully misrepresent or mislead.

These items (in this context) regard TONGUE ISSUES, and are the personal responsibility of every believer. We need to learn to speak truth, curb outbursts and kill bad language. This isn’t to earn a place with God, it is because it is evidence of a life being transformed by Christ. Be clear: you can hear a Christian. You will know them, in this context, by how they speak. It isn’t ONLY that, but it SHOULD INCLUDE that!

Transformation KILLS old prejudices and helps me see people in a new way (Colossians 3:11).

As Jesus transforms my life, I stop seeing people as “us” and “them” based on RACE and SOCIAL STATUS – but see the world as those who BELIEVE and those who NEED JESUS. Paul wrote:

Colossians 3:11 [a renewal] in which there is no [distinction between] Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

People are either believers or they are ensnared and perishing. They are either brothers and sisters in Christ or they are the object of God’s love not yet freed. It is UNCHRISTIAN to view a person of color as less than I am, but correct to view an unbeliever as different than I am. No man or woman is worth less than I am, nor more. Yet, not all will be treated the same by me. Brothers hear different things than neighbors. I share my most intimate thoughts, needs and feelings with family, not the world I am trying to reach. Believers draw a line of distinction around other believers – not based on ethnicity and social status, but based on belief alone.

There is another way that transformation changes my view of people. If Jesus is changing me, I will not see people as “stuck in my way” but “placed by God in my life”:

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things [put on] love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Our eyes are the windows through which we look at life. People who are transformed by Jesus gain a new perspective by a spiritual “eye replacement” surgery – they see life differently. Paul made clear that we begin to see each other with love and compassion – because we recognize how much we have received in compassion from an absolutely perfect and holy God.

• He reminds them, first of all, that their brothers and sisters have been chosen of God.

• Second, Paul reminds them that each were distinct and beloved of God.

On the basis of those two ideas – believers were chosen and separated out by the love of God – Paul placed a list of eight commands of things to PUT ON:

• Put on a heart (splangkh’-non) of compassion (oyk-tir-mos’): includes two Greek words – “bowels” and (oiktirmós) or emotional pity. This is empathy for someone’s difficulty or misfortune.

• Put on kindness (chréstotés): A good way to think of this is “useful kindness” – a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22) whereby the believer is empowered to meet the practical needs of another.

• Put on humility (tapeinophrosuné): two terms – tapeinós –”lowly or humble”, but implies becoming God-reliant rather than self-reliant (which ironically brings us true worth, cf. 1 Pet 5:6); and phrḗn – referring (figuratively) as “the parts around the heart”.

• Put on gentleness: praótēs, from pra- (emphasizing the divine origin) and the term meekness, or “gentle strength”. This is a word for power with reserve, ever exercised in controlled measure.

• Put on patience: makrothumía from makrós, “long” and thymós, “passion, or outbursts of anger”. Become one who can wait sufficient time before expressing anger, thus avoiding the premature use of force or retribution.

• Put on “bearing with one another”: anéxomai is from “completing a process” and exō, “to have” – properly it is translated “forbearing” but actually means to “bear up while understanding a process is in action”.

• Put on forgiveness for one another: xarízomai is literally “favor that cancels”. The term is used of God giving His grace to pardon, not based on any merit of the one the gift.

• Put on love – the superglue that holds us together: agápē – properly, love which centers in moral preference.

The point is that we need to deliberately PUT ON HEAVEN GLASSES AND SEE differently. Instead of convincing ourselves that we were somehow BETTER and MORE APPEALING to God than other people around us – we must recognize that we have been the recipients of God’s love and care. He pulled us to Himself because of love – and we must see each other as valuable. God said that those who are around you – other annoying believers that you worship with – were worth His love, His purchase, His selection, His Son! If that is true, we must SEE EACH OTHER through the new eyes that reflect that value. Then we must ACT ACCORDINGLY.

Transformation helps us GET ALONG with other believers (Colossians 3:15).

People who are transformed by Jesus are to learn to allow the peace of Jesus rule their heart.

Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body;

The word PEACE is the New Testament term eirḗnē, taken from the word eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole” and means wholeness, a completion. Something is wrong with a church of believers who are constantly stirred up – they seem to be lacking something. I have been talking to believers, trying to figure out what is keeping them stirred up. Here are a few of the WHOLENESS ROBBERS I have discovered:

• Fear of loss of the past: A great many people in America today live with the constant fear that new government programs, new propaganda planted in our educational system, and an emerging new moral system that is casting off the most basic constraints are about to topple our way of life. They may be right, but the response of fear and constant complaining is not.

• Fear of coming troubles: Akin to the loss of the past is the ever threatening voice of “their going to take your guns”. They are going to take away our religious freedoms. They are going to come and make our children do wrong. You know what? I think you may be right, but that cannot be my focus. My years on this earth are limited, and my purpose is primarily to see that those who need to hear about Jesus, do.

• Fear of loss of control: From health care to guns, from school curriculum to state welfare – we are constantly being campaigned to join a cause. Let me advise you to pick what you are concerned about, and find a practical way to make a difference in that area. Leave the rest for prayer. God is not going to hold you personally responsible for the end times.

During the Second World War, servicemen heard the prayer that originated by Reinhold Niebuhr. A version of it is still circulated in AA meetings:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

I am not declaring you all alcoholics, but I am saying there are too many believers that are too stirred up, and we are commanded to put on the ruling mastery of peace. Note the language of the text that carefully calls us to allow God’s gift of WHOLENESS to take charge of our heart. It is simple rebellion to resist the ruler ship of peace and turn over the realm to worry.

Transformation can be seen in APPRECIATION! (Colossians 3:15b).

When we learn to see each other differently, and let peace stabilize our daily walk, the third mark will show profoundly… We will learn to be thankful!

Colossians 3:15b “…and be thankful.

The word “thankful” is euxáristos, taken from eú, “well” and xarízomai, “grant freely”. It means you become “thankful for God’s grace working out what is (eternally) good”.

Let’s be honest. You and I have no control over the issues of life. Forget that you don’t control the government… as we age we are struggling to control our own “plumbing”. Don’t be embarrassed by the fact that as we age, we realize that control is an illusion lived in the minds of the young. Yet, we are not to panic – we are to face facts. We were NEVER truly in control! A thankful heart isn’t about having control, but about being grateful you know Who does. You DO know what His big purposes in the world are, if you know His Word. If you know Him, how can you look at eternity with Him and not be unbelievably thankful?

Transformation makes me HUNGRY for His Word! (Colossians 3:16).

With a thankful and peace guarded heart, I must learn that as a follower of Jesus I need to fill my mind with the Word of Christ daily. When I do that, I will want to recite it in three ways:

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms [and] hymns [and] spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Did you see the three recitations of God’s goodness? They are found in the words “Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”. What are they?

• Psalms: the term “psalmós” was originally Scripture sung and accompanied by a plucked musical instrument (typically a harp). It was an old Hebrew tradition that made its way into the early church.

• Hymns: hýmnos is a word taken from hydeō, which means “to celebrate”. In antiquity, these were generally songs that praised heroes and conquerors. The emphasis was they were “historically well known” songs. Many church hymns were set to tunes known in celebrations and even pubs. Luther encouraged the German church to place Christian words to already popular tunes.

• Spiritual Songs: An ōdḗ was a ballad that wove a tale with a moral exhortation. In some ways, it was like a ballad that unwound a story in song. The term was used of spontaneous, impromptu (unrehearsed) melodies of praise, giving testimony about a walk with God to other worshipers.

Whether we sing out the Word of God (something I wish we did even more than we do), sing historic and well-structured hymns and songs of the faith, or whether you are simply “making music as the Lord leads” in “spiritual songs” about your journey with Jesus, your mouth will reflect what is going on inside – transformation!

Ephesians 4: 29 reminds: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” For those who have struggled with a “bad mouth” before Jesus (and sometimes after), I suggest you change your musical diet. Sing God’s Word more! Sing Praises more! A new vocabulary comes with practice!

Transformation changes my PURPOSE! (Colossians 3:17)

When I look at life through HEAVEN GLASSES, and I allow Jesus to work in my transformation – I start doing all that I do to please Him, to glorify Him, to honor Him!

Colossians 3:17 Whatever you do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Note that Paul carefully covered every word and every deed. Your faith on Monday should sound like your “church faith” on Sunday. Also note that Paul talked about a testimony of acting out truth – DOING SOMETHING thankfully.

The final way you can see transformation is for our next lesson: It changes my relationships in life! (Colossians 3:18-4:18).

Colossians 3 says that the redeemed show it in actions and attitudes – not just labels and memberships…

Jesus didn’t just SAVE us, He CHANGES us.

Let me close with a story and a request…There is an old tale an eagle that had been captured when it was very young by a farmer who snared the bird to keep it from growing and harming his small animals. He put a restraint on the eaglet so it couldn’t fly, and loosed to roam in the barnyard with his chickens. In short ordern the eagle began to act like a chicken. It scratched about and pecked at the ground. A majestic bird that for a short time soared high in the heavens became satisfied with live in the barnyard. One day the farmer was visited by a shepherd, who lived in the mountains where the eagles lived. Seeing the eagle, the shepherd said to the farmer, “What a shame to keep that bird hobbled here in your barnyard! Why don’t you let it go?” The farmer agreed, and they cut off the restraint. Yet the eagle didn’t leave! It continued to wander about the yard, scratching and pecking. The shepherd picked up the bird and took it up to a high precipice. As the eagle saw from its former height perspective, it lept into the grand expanse of blue sky and flew toward the glowing sun. With wings spread, it soared off into a tremendous spiral flight. Finally it was acting like an eagle again.

Man was made to walk with God, and to live a full life with Him. Jesus came and took off your restraint. Isn’t it time you took off back to the high place to which you were called? Why not drop the idea that something is blocking you, and look at your wrists – your chain are gone. It is time to fly again!